South Africa: violence


Due to the volatile security situation, Canadian citizens are advised to exercise a high degree of caution.


The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.


South Africa has a very high level of crime. Crime is the primary security threat to travellers.

Violent crimes, including rape and murder, routinely occur and have involved foreigners. Muggings, armed assaults and theft are also frequent, often occurring in areas that are popular among tourists. Carjackings and cases of robbery and assault have been reported as well.

Armed robberies at shopping malls have increased. If confronted by an armed individual, you are advised to immediately comply, avoid making sudden movements, avoid resisting or antagonizing the assailants and avoid eye contact with your assailant.

Crime significantly increases after dark in major city centres and townships. After dark, avoid the areas of Berea, Hillbrow and Yeoville in Johannesburg, Sunnyside in Pretoria, and the beachfront and Victoria wharf in Durban. In Cape Town, avoid walking from downtown hotels to the waterfront.

Outbreaks of violence and looting have taken place in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria, and could reoccur with little warning. Monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities.

Common criminal strategies

Be on the alert for ploys to stop your vehicle. Criminals have been known to create bogus accidents or roadblocks (sometimes putting debris in the road) and to throw rocks, bricks and paint from freeway overpasses onto moving vehicles to damage cars and disorientate drivers. The criminal then waits for the driver to pull over or exit the car before grabbing exposed valuables and/or stealing the vehicle.

Criminals are known to pose as police officers to extort and rob tourists, including by stopping tourist buses or rented cars to check proof of identity and search luggage. You are advised to not pull over on the side of the road, put on your hazard lights and slowly drive to a gas station, police station or other safe and populated area.

Be especially vigilant at vulnerable points such as traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs and highway off-ramps. Smash and grab incidents are frequent, where car windows are broken and valuables such as handbags are taken while cars are wait at junctions. Park in well-lit areas, do not pick up strangers and ensure that vehicle doors are locked and windows are closed at all times.

Hotel theft

Theft, including from hotel rooms and guest houses, is common. Never leave your windows or doors open or unlocked, even when you are present. Check the level of security at guest houses, hotels, lodges, backpacker lodges or any accommodation before making bookings. Do not leave luggage and valuables unattended, and place them in safekeeping facilities. Do not open the door to anyone without taking necessary precautions. If someone claims to be a member of staff, verify with the reception prior to opening the door.

Automated banking machines

Attacks on automated banking machines (ABMs), in which criminals use explosives to gain access to the cash box, have increased throughout the country. Be particularly vigilant and do not let yourself get distracted at ABMs, as assaults on people using them occur. Although attacks usually take place in isolated areas and early in the morning, some have been perpetrated in high-traffic areas. Do not attempt to use ABMs that appear damaged or defective, or that are located in isolated or poorly lit areas. Also, do not accept any offer of assistance with your transaction. If suspicious at any time, cancel your transaction and use another ABM. Whenever possible, do not withdraw money from an ABM at a gas station, since these are often targeted by criminals. Avoid using ABMs at night and, if possible, have someone accompany you to watch the area during your transaction.

Regional unrest

Xenophobic attacks primarily targeting refugees or immigrants from other African nations, and outbreaks of violence and looting are occurring in central Durban and several surrounding areas such as Umlazi and KwaMashu. This type of unrest has also been reported in and around Johannesburg, and could reoccur in any region of the country with little warning. Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, and monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities at all times.


The political situation is stable in South Africa, however, nationwide strikes and demonstrations occur frequently and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, stay away from locations where they may be held and follow the advice of local authorities at all times. Monitor local media and other sources of information for updates on security risks, demonstrations, public gatherings and trade union workers’ strikes.

Road travel

Traffic drives on the left. Road conditions are generally good, but some roads in the more remote areas are less well maintained and potholes may be encountered. Drive cautiously at all times and adhere to speed limits.

Traffic lights are frequently out of order. Treat all intersections with malfunctioning traffic lights as a four-way stop. At traffic circles (roundabouts) drivers should give way to the right, although this rule is often ignored.

Avoid driving in close proximity to armored vehicles transporting cash as they are often the target of attacks on the road.

Avoid undertaking overland travel after dark. Insufficient lighting on rural roads makes it difficult to see pedestrians, wild animals and stray livestock. Pedestrians are known to cross major highways.

There are many road accidents causing death in South Africa. Alcohol and poor driving standards, such as ignoring traffic signs, speeding and indiscriminate overtaking, are often contributing factors, particularly at night. Accidents can happen if you drive in wet conditions, as roads get very slippery. Observe the recommended following distances.

Beware of relying solely on global positioning system (GPS) navigation devices, as they may direct you through unsafe areas. Verify your route prior to departure.

When renting a vehicle, choose one with a robust central locking system, lockable fuel tank cap and vehicle alarm. Use a reliable company offering 24-hour emergency service, and ensure that you have the contact details for the service.

It is illegal to carry gasoline in portable containers. Make sure you carry identification and your valid drivers’ licence in English at all times.

Public transportation

Public transport is not recommended. Tourists have been mugged and assaulted in and around bus stations. Avoid the central bus station in Johannesburg. Train travel is not recommended, especially second or third class. Services are slow and several serious accidents in recent years have raised concerns over safety standards. Violent attacks have also taken place on local commuter and metro trains between Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as on commuter trains in Cape Town. However, the Gautrain between O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as the Blue Train and Rovos Rail, are safe for tourists.

Taxis cannot be hailed in the street. Ask your hotel to arrange a taxi and ensure that you prearrange transport for your return journey. Sit in the rear of the vehicle and keep windows up and doors locked at all times. Keep valuables out of sight and place bags by your feet. It is advisable to negotiate the fare with the driver in advance. Avoid using minibuses and unlicensed taxis.

Passport theft and baggage pilferage are prevalent at both international and regional airports. All valuables should be placed in your hand luggage. Where possible, suitcases should be locked and wrapped in secure plastic film. This service is available at most airports for a nominal fee.

Do not accept unsolicited offers of assistance with carrying your luggage or pushing your luggage trolley. Remain vigilant and do not leave any bag unattended, even for a moment. Be on the alert at X-ray machines while having your hand-held baggage scanned; where possible, accompany your luggage through these stations. There has been a string of thefts inside the secure area of the international terminal at the O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg (after the security checkpoint and past immigration).

Arrange to be met at the airport upon arrival and dropped off for departure by reliable contacts. Clearly identify who is picking you up before getting into their vehicle. Criminals have been known to replicate passengers’ names on signs in the arrivals area in order to rob them. Confirm the identity of the person meeting you. There have been incidents of passengers being followed from airports to their accommodation and robbed. Should you be concerned that you are being followed, proceed to the first available gas station or police station for assistance.

he volatile security situation Canadian citizens are advised to exercise a high degree of caution.